Olive Oil Manufacture per Charlie Brown
As told to Ellen Finley
The olives were fed by the full box into a wood container and then into a large grinder. The grinder was run by a single cylinder gas engine which Charlie recalls a putt-putt engine. From the grinder, the olive pulp, pits and all, went into a box with a set of screens. This box was on the upper level or loft right near the grinder. From the grinder, the juice and oil flowed into a drain-pipe which emptied into a tank on the lower level of the building.
This tank was made of wooden slabs, probably redwood with iron bands which could be tightened. The tank was about six feet tall and four feet wide. To show the fluid level in the tank, there was attached to the outside of the tank a glass gauge, about an inch in diameter and three to four feet long, with two valves, one at the top and one at the bottom. As the liquid drained from the grinder into the tank, the oil would rise to the top and the juice would run out through a drain in the bottom of the tank into the side yard where it made a foul-smelling mess.
The pulp which had gone into the box with the set of screens was now strained by going through a screen with a large mesh and then a screen with finer mesh. The juice obtained in this way was also drained into the large tank on the lower level of the building.
Upstairs, close to where the olives were ground, there was a rough wooden framework, the olive press. This held a board with groves about one-quarter of an inch wide. This board was covered by a quarter-inch thick burlap blanket that hung down over the sides of the board. Two or three inches of pulp were spread by shovels on the board which was two feet wide, three feet long, and two inches thick. The burlap was then folded over the pulp. Next, this was covered by a second board having grooves in both top and bottom. More pulp was added in the same manner until there were six to eight layers of pulp, burlap, and boards. On top of all this was placed a board with grooves on the bottom only. On top of this final board two railroad ties were placed, going the same way. Then a shorter railroad tie was placed going the opposite way. On top of this shorter railroad tie, two screw-jacks, their bottoms six to eight inches in diameter, were set and attached with iron bolts. The screw-jacks were attached on alternate sides of the press and were turned by hand using iron bars. As the pressure mounted, the oil and juice left in the pulp went into a galvanized tin pan and then down through a pipe to the tank below. The juice then drained out into the yard.
A pitcher-pump was then used to pump the oil from the tank up into four tanks of galvanized iron. These tanks were joined by valves at the bottoms of the tank. The oil dripped through one-quarter inch thick blotters of filters. The tanks had a cover to keep out foreign objects. The oil dripped very slowly, taking one to two days. Therefore, four tanks were used to increase the output. When the unfiltered oil had finished dripping through the filter pads, it was extremely pure.
The fourth tank had a filter valve or spigot. One person used this spigot and a funnel to fill the tall thin bottles and cork them. This same person then pasted on the labels which stated that Judge Elkins’ olive oil had won a first place blue ribbon at the St. Louis World’s Fair in 1904.
The pulp was then removed from the framework of the press and stored until it had dried completely. Then the cakes were broken up and used instead of charcoal as fuel for the smudge-pots in Judge Elkins’ citrus groves. The Judge used heat instead of smudge, according to Charlie Brown.
As far as we know at this writing, the method for making olive oil described here was designed and built by Judge Caswell Carl Elkins, Sr.
Charles D. Brown
March 9, 1986
Mr. Brown died December, 1986